What motorcycle have you kept the longest?
The idea of proposing this question to readers came to me several times while pulling this issue together. The inspiration came from reading author Phillip Tooth’s feature on a BMW R50S, bought new in 1963 by motorcycle enthusiast Robert Freeman. Robert traveled on the bike, raced it, put a sidecar on it for a few years in the 1970s, and even competed in road rallies with it, winning trophies along the way. Now put back to a solo setup, the bike shows the patina of more than 100,000 miles of faithful service, with far fewer fixes needed than one might expect.
If I were to answer the question, the longest term resident of my garage is also a BMW: My 1973 R75/5 LWB. I’d actually once seen the bike before it came up for sale, parked in editor Richard Backus’ garage. His friend Gary Glover had brought it over for some mechanical help. I think this must have been about 2007. I don’t remember what the problem was, but the bike soon went back to Gary, who at some point stashed it away in a friend’s barn.
A few years later, Gary decided it was time to part with the bike. It wasn’t running and no one knew what was wrong with it, but the price was fair. I was short on cash at the time, but my friend Chris was starting to get the itch for an old bike, so he supplied the funds and I went and retrieved “our” BMW (using Richard's borrowed truck, no less). This was in February of 2009. After getting it home, cleaning the fuel tank, putting a new battery in it and checking all the fluids, we tried to crank the bike over, and that’s when we discovered that a couple of cylinder head studs on the right cylinder had pulled from the case. Not good.
A couple of phone calls led me to Benny, a local wrench (and Airhead enthusiast), and off the bike went to his shop. Benny inserted a couple of helicoils (if only I'd known what Time-Serts were back then!), cleaned the carbs, set the valves and points, and lo and behold, we were up and running. I had a new set of tires spooned on soon thereafter, and from then on the bike was ridden regularly. I added R90S handlebars and replaced the tired rear shocks with a spare original pair that Richard had in his attic of “motorcycle parts he might need someday,” and Chris enjoyed the motorcycle for a few years.
When he moved away for a new job Chris signed the bike over to me, knowing I’d take good care of it. It’s been with me ever since. In fact, it’s the only bike I’ve ever kept for more than a handful of years. It's seen weekend road trips, and I even rode it on my first track day back in 2013. Today it wears taller bars again, and I use it mostly for back road cruises. Some months it wears soft saddlebags, which make it perfect for evening runs to find a 6-pack. But back to my earlier question: What bike have you kept the longest, and why? Send me a letter about it at firstname.lastname@example.org, along with a couple of photos of your bike. I look forward to hearing from you.